Once a glimmer in the eyes of executives from Shenzhen to Silicon Valley, 5G now dominates a broad swath of the global supply chain—and the competition to control different parts of it is heating up. Equipment makers, smartphone sellers and chip designers are all vying for control of machines and services that use the fifth-generation wireless standard, which is becoming easier to find across parts of Asia, Europe and North America.
By most measures, China is no longer just leading the US when it comes to 5G. It is running away with the game. China has more 5G subscribers than the US, not just in total but per capita. It has more 5G smartphones for sale, and at lower prices, and it has more-widespread 5G coverage. Connections in China are, on average, faster than in the US, too. When it comes to the things that are supposed to make 5G revolutionary, not just evolutionary—the apps made possible by the greater speeds and capacity—China’s front-runner status is less well-entrenched.
Apparently, Huawei has decided to fight a Federal Communications Commission decision that further curtails its business with some of its few remaining customers in the US, as it continues to advocate for itself in an escalating battle with Washington. The company is preparing a lawsuit that would challenge the decision—part of a broad recent effort by Huawei of more forcefully challenging US efforts to restrict its business.
Officials from the US State Department and the Federal Communications Commission outlined their campaign to exclude Huawei from allies’ next generation communications networks, calling the Chinese equipment-maker “duplicitous and deceitful”. The officials, however, declined to offer any specific evidence of so-called backdoors in Huawei infrastructure that would permit it to spy on the US or its allies.
The early waves of mobile communications were largely driven by American and European companies. As the next era of 5G approaches, promising to again transform the way people use the internet, a battle is on to determine whether the US or China will dominate.